The 13th president came to office on the coattails of a popular war hero, Zachary Taylor, who died in office a little over a year after becoming president.
Born in a log cabin in central New York, Fillmore made his way to politics and the Whig Party via school teaching and the law. A largely ignored vice president, he got Taylor's attention when he told him he would support the Compromise of 1850 if the Senate came to a deadlock. Consisting of five separate acts (including the Fugitive Slave Law, compelling the federal government to return fugitive slaves to their masters), the compromise stood for everything Taylor opposed.
When the ailing president died, his successor became an even more vigorous champion of the compromise measures. Fillmore's actions may have averted a national crisis and postponed the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was peace bought at an unconscionable price.
Two decades after the notorious deal, the New York Times opined that it was Fillmore's "misfortune to see in slavery a political and not a moral question." Misfortune might now seem too kind a word.